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The incident in front of Hopkins

I was driving home yesterday after a long day at school. It was my birthday, and I wanted to get home to my wife and a downloaded copy of “Sherlock“. Because I had school the next day, we decided not to go out, staying in instead and watching the show while eating some Chipotle. The plan was good. I was really looking forward to it.

As I drove in front of Johns Hopkins Hospital, I heard a thump and screeching wheels. My windows were up and I was fidgeting with the radio, so I didn’t immediately grasped what I had heard. Seconds later, I heard the screams of a woman. I had not heard someone scream in horror like that in a very long time. So I lowered the window, slowed down, and looked at the other side of the road. In the picture below, I was heading in the direction of the red arrow. The incident happened where I drew the red cross.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 10.50.53 AM

I turned off the radio, slowed down and stopped, turned on the hazard lights, grabbed my phone and wallet, and ran out of the jeep. Time started to move very, very slowly at this point.

As I crossed the street to where the accident had happened, a woman asked me if I was a doctor. I shook my head and kept jogging toward the accident. A security guard was radioing for help. A small sedan was stopped, the driver, a woman, was on the phone. In front of the car, on the driver’s side and on the ground, was a woman. She was the screaming woman. She had just been run over.

I knelt next to her and told her everything was fine, that she was not alone. I looked around, and everyone, including the security guard, just stood there and gawked. Her leg was bent in a weird angle. She was wearing only one shoe. The other show was on the bumper of the car. The driver was on the phone with someone, begging them to come help her since she’d just run over someone and didn’t want to go to jail.

I asked the security guard if an ambulance was coming. He nodded yes. I held the woman in my arms and told her she was okay, that I wouldn’t leave her until someone came to help. I asked her what hurt. She said her knee and shoulder, nothing else. I didn’t see any blood. I thought to myself that she should be fine and that there wasn’t anything else for me to do but to be there for her. So I just sat there, telling her over and over again that she would be okay and that I wasn’t leaving.

In the meantime, a crowd began to gather. No one else offered help.

A few minutes later, a man in a white coat came around. “Thank God,” I thought. “A doctor.” He asked the security guard if he had called for help. It was then that I noticed that the doctor was indeed a doctor, but his coat read “Dermatology”. Somewhere inside my head, a joke started to be put together, but it was squashed by the woman’s screams of pain. So I went back to holding her and telling her help was on the way.

A few minutes after that, a physician and a woman showed up. They had some sort of a “go bag”, and he identified himself as an emergency room physician. It was then that I heard sirens coming close. The physician looked at me and nodded. I let go of the woman and stood up to head back to the jeep. There wasn’t more for me to do.

On the way to the jeep, a man approached me and shook my hand. He asked me if I was a doctor. I told him I wasn’t. He asked why I went to help her if I wasn’t a doctor. I shrugged my shoulders. If I would have had time to think what to answer, I would have told him that I went to her aid because she was a woman who had just been run over, she was screaming, she was in pain… Who the hell stands around and just watches?

Plenty of people, apparently.

Later last night, my wife told me that people react differently, and that many won’t get involved “once they see Superman take control.” I smiled. I remember being very angry at all those people for just standing around. It was a full two or three minutes before I ran out of the jeep and across the street, and all that time the woman was there alone, in pain, screaming.

As I drove home afterward, after I called my wife and expressed my anger and how upset I was at the situation, after I wondered if worse and worse things would keep happening and me around for them (a sort of “Johnny-on-the-spot” syndrome), I wondered what happened to the coward in me from years ago. He took off the glasses and brought out an “S”, I guess. I guess I’m ready for worse things?

I don’t want that… But I’ll do something if it does.

“God, please don’t let it happen. But, if it does, let it be on my watch.” – Dr. CJ Peters, Virus Hunter

“I spent the morning combing through police records and newspaper stories. You’re Johnny-on-the-Spot, Clark. You’re Smallville’s own hero on deck.” – Perry White


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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.

4 replies

  1. “He asked why I went to help her if I wasn’t a doctor.”

    I’ve asked, “How could I not, a human being was in distress and helpless.”
    For, if we as a society don’t rush to at least assist someone who is injured and in distress emotionally, what can we expect during a time of major emergency?
    To be blunt, I have grave reservations on the viability of the continuance of such a society.


    1. Agreed. It was very, very upsetting to see everyone just standing around. That probably upset me more than anything, more than her howling screams of pain.


  2. Your story resonated with me because in December a woman was hit by a car in front of my building. It was pre-sunrise and there was fog and snow mist. She was crossing the street between corners and coming from between parked cars. And wearing dark clothing. The driver could not see her. We heard the impact, and then she began to scream. We were having coffee in our living room. We are on the 15th floor and visibility was poor, but it was clear what had happened. My husband went down, as you did, to offer help. He and several others called 911. When he got to the street, several others had gathered to help and comfort the woman. And the driver, as he had no chance of seeing her before he hit her. We live two blocks from a major medical center and have excellent EMS service, so response was quick. The woman died in surgery. But unlike your experience, in this case there were people to act with what I’d consider basic human interaction. I’m glad for that. But it will be a long time before I can forget the screaming.


    1. I think it varies from place to place whether or not people respond. Baltimore, in my opinion, suffers from a “not my problem” syndrome. Last year, when a man fell into the train well at the metro, only me and another man jumped in to get him while everyone else on the platform just watched. I’ve heard from others about how someone gets their purse or their phone snatched from them and no one offered to call the police. The courts there suffer from jury nullification, where jury members don’t want to be associated with sending someone dangerous to jail. I think there is a lot of fear in the city.


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